The Rt. Hon. Sir John Major KG CH

Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland 1990-1997

1992Prime Minister (1990-1997)

Mr Major’s Speech to Scottish Conservative Candidates – 22 February 1992

Below is the text of the press release issued after Mr Major’s speech to Scottish Conservative candidates, made at the Moat House Hotel in Glasgow on Saturday 22nd February 1992.


Mr Chairman, I am glad to be here once more in Scotland. Glad to be with you, as you prepare to carry the ideas of this Party out to every doorstep in Scotland. And proud to be with you when you help the Conservative Party win the next General Election.

Ladies and Gentlemen, this is a crucial election for Britain. And a crucial Election for Scotland. I have no doubt that Britain will retain a Conservative Government. And no doubt that Conservative policies will best safeguard and strengthen the interests of Scotland. Within the United Kingdom. And in the world outside.

In the 1950s we had a majority of the seats in Scotland. But I know that in recent years it has not always been so easy. You have not let that check your determination to put our case. And I know that when the election comes, you will do so again – with clarity, with vigour, and success.

For let me tell you what you will be fighting for in the weeks and months ahead.

You will be fighting for policies that will lead Britain out of recession. And ensure our prosperity and safety in the decade to come.

Fighting for wider ownership.

Fighting for wealth creation, for choice, and for opportunity for all.

Fighting for the rights of the family against encroachment by the state.

And fighting for a responsible lead in Scotland. For a party that thinks of the long-term needs of our country. For a Party that rises above the short-term opportunism that has characterised Labour and Liberal policy in Scotland.

And let me tell who’ll be alongside you in that fight. Hundreds and hundreds of thousands of people in every part of Scotland. In villages and towns. In crowded cities and lonely countryside. Wherever you go in this campaign, if you carry our message, you will find them.

People who want to see schools, hospitals, and public services that serve them better as our Citizen’s Charter requires.

People who believe in savings, in holding something of their own and leaving it to their families.

People who want low tax that spurs on business and leaves choice in every individual’s hands.

People who want the stability that comes from keeping inflation down and defences secure.

People with confidence in Scotland. In what it has achieved. In what it is achieving. In what it will achieve.

People with pride in the role this United Kingdom -Scotland and Wales, England and Northern Ireland together – has played in world affairs. Helping to liberate Kuwait, to safeguard the Kurds, to promote the UN, to help build democracy in the old Soviet Union and to put Europe on the right path.

People who want us to go on playing a leading role in the councils of the world. Helping to make the world a better, safer place for our children.

People who know that if the voice of Britain is weakened, so, too, will be the prospects of the new international order that we all wish to see.

Mr Chairman, there are millions of such people in Scotland today. People with pride, ambition, and determination – for themselves and their families and for their country. They may not all know it – yet. But the values they hold are Conservative values. Your values. And mine.

I cannot believe that the people of Scotland have so little ambition for their future that they will choose the sterile road to Socialism – just when it has been rejected in every part of the world.

Last year at our Party Conference in Scotland, I said that I wanted to put Scotland at the centre of international affairs. That is still my aim.

Already Scotland is:the seat of some of the world’s most innovative industries – the oil industry that has transformed the north-East, the financial centre in Edinburgh, the huge and growing electronics sector, and the whisky industry for which Scotland is world famous. The revival of the great city of Glasgow, backed by the commitment and resources of this Government, and its international recognition as a city of culture – this has been historic. But we can still do more to bring the opportunities of the wider world here to Scotland.

That is why I have promised that, when a Conservative Government is returned, we will make Edinburgh the city where Europe’s leaders meet in Summit with Britain as their president. It will be in Scotland’s capital that Europe finally agrees the completion of the single market. A step that is essential in the interests of Scotland.

Mr Chairman, some may say such events are merely symbols. But what symbol could be more powerful than for it to be here in Scotland than an agreement is struck that serves Scottish industry and finance? For an accord to be reached here that will influence the future of much of our continent.

For Britain is now exerting unique influence on world affairs. And when I say that I’m not thinking only of the Gulf War in which Scottish servicemen and women played such an heroic part. I am thinking of the everyday currency of peacetime diplomacy.

Last December we negotiated a deal with our partners at Maastricht. It was right for Europe. And right for Britain. A deal that strengthened opportunity for Scottish business.

That kept Scotland a magnet for foreign investment -with a chance to build on the £4.2 billion that has flowed into Scotland since 1981. A deal, Mr Chairman, that kept away the disaster of a so-called social charter. That charter, as Mr Delors himself admits, would have removed our competitive edge as a haven for international investment in Europe. It would have destroyed jobs by the thousand in Scotland. And Labour would have signed it.

Last month in New York we brought together the leaders of the world in the Security Council – for the first time in the 47 year history of the United Nations. We reached there an unprecedented level of agreement on plans for a safer, securer world.

Britain’s initiative was decisive in those great events. And Britain’s initiative was Scotland’s initiative. Together the countries of the United Kingdom are pointing the way to a better future for Europe and the world. I want us to go on using that influence now, when it is most needed. In this uncertain world the experience and the skill of the United Kingdom can play a decisive part. So it is essential now that we should stand together, united, and shape the decade ahead.

But some see a different future for Scotland. They would break the links through which we have worked together for nearly 300 years.

They want an independent Scotland. By that they mean a separate Scotland – a very different Scotland. A Scotland apart, adrift from England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

I can understand the pride in being a Scot that may lead to that ambition. But everyone should pause to consider what such an historic rupture would mean. Not just for Scotland. But for every part of the United Kingdom.

Does anyone seriously believe that, if Scotland plunged down the road to separation, the influence for good in the world that we’ve exerted together would remain the same?

It couldn’t be. And, sadly, it wouldn’t be. It would be a loss for us all – a loss for Europe and the shaping of the century to come.

That is one reason why I come to this conference today. To speak of a matter that transcends the Election. To say again what I believe. I believe with passion and conviction – this Party should stand for unity – not division. We are a Unionist Party. We should fight for the Union.

And, Mr Chairman, as we make that stand, we can do so firmly and clearly. For we do not do it for party political advantage. It is not the Conservative party that gains – or has gained – most from the ties between Scotland and England.

And yet it is our Party that supports the Union. Not because it’s always been good for us, but because it’s always seemed right to us. Not always in our political interest, but always in that of our Kingdom and the countries within it.

Whether we are in the majority in Scotland, or in the minority in Scotland, I believe we should continue to stand for the historic union of the peoples of the United Kingdom. A union in which our nations work together but each sustains and develops its rich and varied traditions.

Let me tell you why. Because England and Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland together are far, far greater than the sum of their parts. Over the centuries since we came together Scottish Prime Ministers, Scottish administrators, and Scottish statesmen have shared in guiding the policies of Britain and its Commonwealth. Businessmen, scientists, ambassadors, writers have for centuries followed the union flag from Scotland to every corner of the world.

The shared values of our countries have been planted with that flag from Arctic wastes to the shores of the Southern Ocean. Only last week in my flat in London, I used television – a Scotsman’s invention – to watch pictures of an English game – cricket – being played in a city 12,000 miles away – called after Scotland’s capital, Dunedin.

Still today Scotsmen – and Scotswomen – figure prominently in the political community from which our government is drawn. There are five Scots in my cabinet. They’re not there on sufferance, or in token representation of Scotland. But because union has given the English and the Scots equal freedom to rise to the top of our national affairs. As British people, to stand for Britain in the councils of Europe and the world.

As in government, so in industry. In trade. In philosophy. In the professions. In the universities. And in the defence of Britain, for which so many Scotsmen have fought shoulder to shoulder with Englishmen, Welshmen and Ulstermen, too.

To each of us, the Union has offered two sources of pride. To be British – but also to be Scottish, or English, or Welsh. It has offered the same reassurance to the people of Northern Ireland. In sport, we can compete with each other – and still come together as Britons.

The delicate balance in the Act of the Union left Scotland free to develop a different code of law, a different education system, different banks, different churches. Nearly 300 years after that Union Scotland is still distinctively Scottish. She has her own Home Department. Her own institutions in the United Kingdom Parliament. Her own system of local government. Her own organisations for the promotion of enterprise, investment and tourism. She has all these things, her own unique responsibilities and traditions – still with all the influence in the world that the union brings.

If the Union of our four countries had never been founded our history would have been entirely different, our destiny far less great. Are we, in our generation, to throw all that away?

This debate will continue in Scotland. It is right that it should. For it is the background to a very difficult decision that Scotland must take at this coming Election.

I don’t want that decision to be taken without the enormity of all that is involved being fully weighed in mind. It is no ordinary decision. No matter to be decided for narrow Party advantage. It goes to the very basis of our constitution and our way of life.

In that debate I want the Scottish Conservative Party to do what no other Party in Scotland is doing. To ensure that the case for maintaining our union is placed before the people. Nearly 300 years of success together. A union that truly means strength. A union within which the voice of Scotland is heard loud and clear. These are not things that should lightly be cast aside.

The decision is for Scotland. The challenge is for Scotland. But the results will affect us all.

I can tell you what I believe. But it is not for me, as an Englishman, to tell the people of Scotland what they should feel. I come here to listen to them. That is my way. To listen. That I will always do. But, as I do so, I have the right and duty, as your Prime Minister – as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom – to tell you what others feel, and what I feel, about our union.

For I, as an Englishman, am part of it.

As I listen to the debate in Scotland, I know well that many people here have their doubts. I know that many feel that Governments in London, of all Parties, have been too remote from them, that too little regard has been paid to the separate identity of Scotland. I know, too, that many now question the arrangements by which this country is governed.

Some, they make no secret of it, are eager for drastic change, for the separation of Scotland from Britain.

Many more oppose that dangerous course, but feel, I believe wrongly, that an assembly or a Parliament for Scotland would not threaten that end. They are misled by those who offer the promised prize of devolution, but say nothing of its certain cost. For the prize does have a price. And Scotland has a right to know it.

Let me talk of separation, and then of devolution.

I will not waste much time on the open advocates of independence. They call it independence. But they mean separation. They are still stuck at that end of the political spectrum from which Eastern Europe is struggling to escape.

They boast of their Socialism. They want nationalisation. They would scrap our nuclear deterrent. They are hostile to enterprise and home ownership. I don’t believe that is the future Scotland truly wants. And I do not wish to see the great Kingdom of Scotland suffer such a fate.

But Nationalist red, or any other colour of the political rainbow, the thought of a separate Scotland should sadden us all. The United Kingdom untied. The bonds that generation after generation of our enemies have sought and failed to break, cast loose, by us, ourselves. If Scotland wants that, we can do it.

No nation can be held irrevocably in a union against its will. We can do it. We can break up the United Kingdom.

But that is not a choice that will affect Scotland alone. A solitary Scotland means a solitary England, along side Wales and Northern Ireland. Two proud nations. Divorced. Marginalised. Diminished. In place of Great Britain, a little Scotland and a lesser Union – each striving, and not always succeeding, to be heard.

But what, Mr Chairman, of what some call devolution, a separate tax-raising Parliament? Not even that should be considered an easy, or permanent, half-way house -devoid of difficulty. It may sound to some a beguiling prospect.

But the truth is that, while as Prime Minister of our United Kingdom I listen to the developing debate in Scotland, I hear voices raised in other parts of Britain, too. And it is clear to me that so great a decision as the establishment of a new Parliament is something upon which the other partners in our country will demand their say.

Our constitution is a delicate balance. As Ian Lang has pointed out, it can, has, and no doubt will, evolve. But so great a change as a new tax-raising Parliament in Scotland could not be a simple bolt-on extra to our constitution. To say that is to mislead the people of Scotland.

Just as Scotland’s decision cannot – and, I know from the debates in this country, will not – be lightly made. So its consequences cannot be simply measured. Confined north of the border. Or easily contained.

Labour’s muddled mixture of proposals is being exposed as not only expensive, but unworkable. None of us can foresee where they might lead, or what would be the consequence of the inevitable tensions between a Parliament in Edinburgh and a Parliament at Westminster.

It would be all too easy in such circumstances for grievances to take hold and grow.

Grievances amongst the Scots, that certain decisions must still be taken by a Parliament at Westminster in which – however generously Scotland is represented – it will be outnumbered by MPs from other parts of the United Kingdom.

Or amongst those outside Scotland, that Scotland’s representation at Westminster is too numerous or that the proportion of Britain’s national tax revenues expended in Scotland is too high.

The danger of Labour’s devolution proposals is that they might feed any such grievances, not dispel them. Labour has chosen to ride on a tiger; that tiger, unless soon caged, could consume the Union itself.

We Conservatives do not want to see such changes. We have accepted the arrangements that have long endured at Westminster. We have lived with the ebb and flow of political favour in Scotland, as in England and Wales. And we have chosen, as Governments before us -Conservative and Labour – have chosen, to direct more resources into Scotland to meet her needs. That was only right. But the current balance, the right balance, rests on the consent of all involved.

This continuing consent cannot be assured by giving people in other parts of the Kingdom things they do not want. There is no appetite in England for the raft of expensive regional assemblies that Labour propose. A debate would come in England and Wales and Northern Ireland about the consequences of a Scottish tax-raising Parliament within our constitution. It cannot be evaded in so ham-fisted a way.

I will never close my mind to ideas for improving the quality of Government. I want better public service. But it doesn’t need more bureaucracy – still less separation – to do that. Let us respond to such anxieties as Scotland voices within our constitution -not use them as a pretext to break that constitution apart. Let us show how, within the Union, we can meet the aspirations of the Scottish people for a better economic future and more say in their individual lives.

Labour’s extra Parliament would offer neither independence nor wealth. It would introduce yet another layer of Government and a new tax to pay for it – increasing dependence and reducing wealth.

I will not dwell on the consequences for the people of Scotland of this extra layer of bureaucracy and tax. Ian Lang has exposed the full impact of these for all to see. They would be bad for Scottish industry, and bad for the Scottish standard of living. A truth, that in the last few days, both the Scottish engineering industry and Scottish Financial Enterprise have once again so clearly spelled out.

Labour make no commitment to protect Scottish business and families against the rapacious demands of their own local councils.

They give no pledge in Scotland – as they claim to give in England – to make no increase in basic personal tax. The Scots, it seems, will pay. Even Labour’s Shadow Chancellor, John Smith, has said their devolution tax could be up to 3p in the pound.

No, Mr Chairman, the limits of this tax-raising Parliament’s tax-raising powers are something on which even Scotland’s would-be Welsh Prime Minister has been quite untypically silent.

If only, he must wish, some of his colleagues could observe the same Trappist vows. Like the loquacious Mr Cook. I wonder if, when Mr Kinnock authorised him to run his “leak-a-week” campaign, he knew it was Mr Cook who’d be doing the leaking.

You know, and I know, and Mr Kinnock knows that Robin Cook blurted out the truth. Consider what he said, and I quote: “Once we have a Scottish Parliament handling Scottish home affairs, it is not possible for me to act as Minister of Health administering Health in England and Wales.”

What he meant was that if there were a Scottish Parliament, with powers for health, or education, or industry, from which English and Welsh MPs were excluded, then there could be no place for Scottish MPs running those Departments in London. Nor, by the same logic, could there be any place for Scotland’s MPs voting on those matters. It would mean the creation of two-tier MPs – hobbled MPs from Scotland with half the power to vote, and members from every other nation with full authority on all the business that came before the House. That is the recipe that, over time, would inevitably lead on to separation.

That used to be called the West Lothian question. Now I suppose we should call it the Cook reply. I don’t want that. And you don’t want that. But that was his vision for Scotland and its members. And that is a reality it would be hard to escape. How lucky for Mr Kinnock that the Cook imagination did not get round to Labour’s planned assembly for Wales.

Imagine Westminster. No Cook. No Smith. No Brown. Either there is a hole in Labour’s would-be Government. Or a hole in Labour’s would-be strategy for Scotland.

No wonder Labour are wriggling as their self-serving devolution strategy comes apart. I have no sympathy for them. For years they have put their Party interest first and Scotland second; and now it is beginning to boomerang in their face.

Mr Chairman – I believe profoundly that the Union has served the people of the United Kingdom well. And served Scotland particularly well. The case for union rests not only on historic experience, but on the common interests we still have in joining our affairs together. Not only on what we have achieved together in the past. But on the lead we must give together in the world of today.

So I say again that this Party will defend this Union. With confidence and with conviction. And, above all, with pride.

Scotland has been transformed for the better in the last decade. Her industries are modern. Her prosperity assured. Inward investment has flooded into Scotland. Her economic regeneration is seen world-wide as one of the success stories of the 1980s. Scotland is poised to lead Britain out of recession and into a period of sustained economic growth.

It is Conservative policies that have brought this about. The low-tax, low regulation economy that a Socialist dominated assembly would stop in its tracks. We must build on our record, not let it be thrown away.

The 1990s will be a competitive decade – as tough as any we have known. Scotland must be able to compete in world markets. And that’s why at the next election the Scottish Conservatives will fight with a commitment to keep taxes low. We will be the only party with that aim. All the others would increase taxes at every opportunity. They’d mean higher taxation that would be a burden on every Scot – and a barrier to every idea of investment and jobs.

We want a prosperous Scotland and a modern Scotland. But also a Scotland in which the traditions and the inheritance of her past are properly respected.

Our vision for Scotland will be realised best if Scotland, by her own free choice, remains a full partner in the Union. Working together to increase prosperity and to improve care for all our citizens. That is central to the Conservative ideal.

Mr Chairman, it’s not fanciful to say that together the peoples of these islands have moulded the history of the world. Separating or separated we would be tossed to and fro on its tides.

In the coming campaign you will take that truth and that vision into every corner of Scotland. And, if you do, I know you will be richly rewarded.

Together, as a Party and as a nation, we will continue the revival of Scotland. Build up the pride of Scotland.

A confident and united Scotland in a confident and united Britain.

That is the road to the success and security we want for our children. And, with your help, we will succeed in achieving it.